I thought this graduation season was the perfect time to share this mom story. When my oldest son graduated from college on a cold, frigid December day, the commencement speech kept conversations warm for many days. It was one of those hilariously mortifying experiences where the urge to laugh and cry at the same time overwhelm. A woman high in the Tennessee Department of Education delivered this laughable oration, with 3 very disconcerting points. Please have a box of tissue handy to handle each one:
- She immediately announced that she had found her first two loves at the university from which my son graduated. The first was sitting right behind her and had left her for another woman. The second was education.
You know the wave fans do at Basketball games – well, in the university gym, you could see a sea of heads waving right, then left, asking their neighbors, ‘Did she just say….?”
My father in law chuckled, saying to me, “You can tell which dean he is. He’s the one with the red face.”
Here I am teaching my sons not to fight in school, and here is an educator publicly giving her ex-husband a verbal body slam in front of an entire graduating class.
- Needless to say, everyone was paying attention now, so the second astonishing point was closely heeded: She told a narrative of being born in Toad-Suck, Arkansas and coming to the university to earn her education degree. After graduating, she was then accepted to a top northern school to further her education – and they offered her a scholarship, thinking she was from Appalachia. She accepted, not correcting them on the fact that she was not from Appalachia and, thus, not really qualified to receive the scholarship because she explained, “Sometimes you are just too poor to have ethics.”
Gasp! Choke! Gurgle! Yes, she said that. I always thought uncomfortable circumstances tested our ethical and moral strength, to make sure they really worked? This, from a leader in Tennessee public education?
- She was not finished, though. She had another disenchanting point to leave us with. She claimed the best way to improve Tennessee education was to get the parents out of the classroom.
How out of touch with reality, I thought. How many of those college graduates were there because of that hands-on approach to educating our children? How many parents sitting there volunteered in classrooms, listened to children read in the hallways, followed up with teachers to find out what was going on? What a parting punch to graduate parents.
The problem with education today is not parents in the classroom. It is leaders in public education who spout dribble like this, diluting the importance of moral character, diminishing the role of parents in a child’s life, and deeming ceremonious behavior, civility, decent and respectful deportment (manners) to back-seat status to better able slip the knife of embarrassment into someone’s back.
The speaker was offered a superintendent position shortly after this commence speech. I rather thought she should have been chased out of the state.
I also thought the university ought to offer a refund to the graduating parents and students.
For an edifying graduation speech, check out The American Scholar by Ralph Waldo Emerson.